Excerpt from Ink-Beneath the Stain

The curtains parted slowly to an enchanting world of purple and gold. Rows of branchy trees were lit up with purple lights at their bases and strung with little gold twinkling lights that looked like fireflies. The ceiling glowed an eerie, stormy pattern of light and shadow, reflecting back the branches from the trees. Dry ice smoke slithered over the ground and rose up to drench the air. People held their breath. In the center of the stage, as if in a mirage, there was a figure curled up on the ground. As the audience watched, riveted, Spanish guitar wafted soulfully through the room, and the figure slowly uncoiled itself, like the frond of a fern, and came to rest on one foot, perfectly balanced like a stork, one arm up towards the sky. A single gold spotlight separated itself from its cohorts and focused on the figure, revealing a young woman dressed like a gypsy. Layers of skirts and sashes with gold sequins hung from her hips. Her limbs, covered in gold bracelets, echoed the gold covered branches of the trees. A white peasant blouse fell off her shoulders and tucked in under her bosom. It glowed a luminous white in stark contrast to the velvety, dark skin of her neck and shoulders, her belly. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders and blouse like live black silk, melting into the darkness, except when it leaped up to touch the gold of the spotlight. The Spanish guitar burst into Flamenco, and the figure sprang to life and transformed into a kaleidoscope of arms, legs, colors and textures in an astonishing coupling of the bursting energy of youth and a mature sensuality.

Ink had never seen anything like it. He felt like he had just been exposed to something life changing, something phenomenal. A swirling nebula from a different galaxy, a supernova dancing on the stage. Tearing his eyes away from the girl, Ink glanced at Bill with a “Wow” on his lips.

But Bill Rhodes did not see him. He did not see anything in that room but the girl. His face was twisted, as if in pain, shoulders tense, breathing forced. His hands shook slightly as they gripped the champagne glass. He was in a dazed world of his own, beady eyes glistening, teeth jabbing into his lower lip hard enough to draw blood. There was a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead. Ink thought he looked like Nosferatu in the dim light, with his big, flat-lobed ears and bald head. And those eyes. He looked mad and possessed. Ink fought the slight feeling of anxiety that swept through him. He did not know who that person was across the table from him, and he did not like that person who was across the table from him. He wanted him to go away, and wanted his friend back. He reached across the table and nudged Bill’s hand. The spell broke. Bill looked at him and grinned sheepishly, taking a deep breath and letting his shoulders drop. He flexed his neck, drained his glass of champagne and poured more. Still fighting anxiety, Ink looked back at the girl and was sucked back into the nebula where nothing existed but her.

The girl danced for twenty minutes or so, then gradually curled back up into a ball on the floor as the music slowed down. Her movements were amazingly fluid, as if she didn’t have any bones in her body. Ink was dumbfounded. Then the curtains closed and she was gone. The silence in the room was only momentary and gave way to thunderous applause and cheering. People stood up at their tables. The curtains lifted again, and the girl stood on the stage, now lit up with regular muted lights, and bowed, her skirts spreading around her, hair streaming to the floor as she knelt. The lights dimmed again, and a slow melody flowed through the room, sumptuous, stirring, spell-binding. The girl began to move to the slow tempo of the music. And, this time, was even more mesmerizing than the last. A gymnast, a ballet dancer, an elegant bird, she arched and twisted her body and neck, and reached out
with her limbs for a world beyond her grasp. A world denied. The spotlight fell on a look of deep sorrow on her face. A look so heart-wrenching that not one soul in the room remained untouched. Ink glanced at Bill and saw tears in his eyes. He felt his own eyes water in response. The music was sad, and the girl was even sadder. And the applause this time shook the earth.

After the show was over, and the lights came back on, people sat at their tables sipping wine and chatting, returning from the emotional journey the show had taken them on. Ink studied Bill curiously. He looked exhausted, but content, as if after an intense odyssey. He opened his mouth to speak, and Ink wondered if his stutter would come out, but it didn’t. Whatever tension had been in this man had all been rubbed and kneaded out by the performance.

“Everybody still alive?” he joked. People at the table chuckled giddily, cautiously. He was still the boss after all. All of a sudden, a smile spread over his face, and he held out his hand. Ink turned to see the dancer coming towards their table, her gait the same amazing combination of youth and sensuality of her dance. Her skirts swayed around her ankles as she approached them. Ink’s heart skipped a few beats. How does one act around a goddess?

“This,” said Bill, standing up and reaching for the girl’s hand, “is Solana. My Esmeralda.

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